Royal Bengal Tiger numbers down drastically

Wildlife population declines by 58pc in 42 years

By Raquib Siddiqi 01 Aug, 2017  |    -      +
DHAKA : Global wildlife populations_ one of the top resources and tourist attractions- are disappearing at an unprecedented rate and face a plunge of more than two-thirds during the 50-year period ending in 2020 as a result of human activities, according to WWF's Living Planet Report 2016.

The Living Planet Report is published every two years and aims to provide an assessment of the state of the world's wildlife. According to the report-which looked at data collected on 3,700 species of vertebrates over the last 40 years_ global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have already declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012. For freshwater species alone, the decline stands at 81 per cent since 1970. At this trajectory, the decline could reach 67 per cent by 2020.

Human activity, including habitat loss, wildlife trade, pollution and climate change contributed to the declines. The report, produced in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London, shows how people are overpowering the planet for the first time in Earth's history, and highlights the changes needed in the way society is fed, fuelled and financed.

BD & Tigers

Bangladesh is no different from global scene, the declining situation in regard to Royal Bengal Tiger population, is likely to give overall wildlife picture in the country.

A survey in 2015 found 106 Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans, down from 440 in 2004. This clearly suggests tiger population has decrea-sed drastically in the forest.

In 2015, there were 3,890 tigers in the world, including 106 in Bangladesh, 103 in Bhutan, seven in China, 2,226 in India, 371 in Indonesia, two in Laos, 250 in Malaysia, 85 in Myanmar, 198 in Nepal, 433 in Russia, 189 in Thailand and five in Vietnam.

Cambodia had 50 tigers in 2010, but five years later it had none. The tiger population was declining fast in Malaysia, Indonesia and China also.

Key findings of the study are :

(1) 38 per cent decline in land-based populations. (2) 36 per cent decline in ocean-based populations and (3) 81 per cent decline in freshwater populations.

The biggest threats to species are :

(1) Loss and degradation of habitat (through agriculture and logging, and man-made changes to freshwater systems). (2) Overex-ploitation (through overfishing, hunting and poaching). (3) Invasive species and disease. (4) Pollution and (5) Growing climate change impact.

Humans are exceeding planetary boundaries :

- The resources of 1.6 planets each year are used to provide the goods and services consumed annually. The bigger the ecological footprint, the greater the pressure on ecosystems and biodiversity, and the greater the risk of biodiversity loss.

- The Earth is being pushed into uncharted territory, with humanity now violating planetary boundaries that act as safe thresholds for nine critical system processes that maintain life on Earth. Those already pushed past safe limits include climate, biosphere integrity, biogeochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorous) and land-system change (such as conversion of forests to agricultural land). Some assessments suggest freshwater use has also passed a safe threshold.

In the eyes of experts

Dr Mike Barrett, Head of science and policy at WWF, said, "It's pretty clear under 'business as usual' we will see continued declines in these wildlife populations. But I think now we've reached a point where there isn't really any excuse to let this carry on.

"We know what the causes are and we know the scale of the impact that humans are having on nature and on wildlife populations - it really is now down to us to act."

Dr Barrett said some groups of animals had fared worse than others.

"We do see particularly strong declines in the freshwater environment - for freshwater species alone, the decline stands at 81 per cent since 1970. This is related to the way water is used and taken out of fresh water systems, and also the fragmentation of freshwater systems through dam building, for example."

African elephants numbers have fallen dramatically as poaching has increased.

It also highlighted other species, such as African elephants, which have suffered huge declines in recent years with the increase in poaching, and sharks, which are threatened by overfishing.

If pressures - overexploitation, illegal wildlife trade for example - increase or worsen, then that trend may be worse.

There are hope

The researchers conclude that vertebrate populations are declining by an average of 2 per cent each year, and warn that if nothing is done, wildlife populations could fall by 67 per cent (below 1970 levels) by the end of the decade.

Dr Robin Freeman, head of ZSL's Indicators and Assessments Unit, said, "But that's assuming things continue as we expect. If pressures_ overexploitation, illegal wildlife trade, for example_ increase or worsen, then that trend may be worse.

"But one of the things I think is most important about these stats, these trends are declines in the number of animals in wildlife populations - they are not extinctions. By and large they are not vanishing, and that presents us with an opportunity to do something about it."

The needed line of action

For decades scientists have been warning that human actions are pushing life toward a sixth mass extinction. Evidence in this year's Living Planet Report supports this. Wildlife populations have already shown a concerning decline, on average by 67 per cent by the end of the decade. While environmental degradation continues, there are also signs that we are beginning a transition towards an ecologically sustainable future.

Earth's ecosystems have evolved for millions of years. This process has resulted in diverse and complex biological communities living in balance with their environment.

In addition to their intrinsic value, diverse ecosystems also provide the foundation for human livelihoods and well-being. However, the size and scale of the human enterprise have grown exponentially since the mid-20th century.

As a result, nature and the services it provides to humanity are subject to increasing risk.

To protect biodiversity, the Living Planet Report 2016 identified the following critical changes as needed:

(1) A transition to 100 per cent sustainable and renewable energy sources; speed is a key factor for determining our future.

(2) Business models that incorporate the true costs of environmental damage into decision making.

(3) A food system with less waste along the food chain, fewer chemical and fossil inputs, significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a shift to less animal protein.

Natural ecosystems keep the air breathable, the water drinkable and provide nutritious food. But their complexity, diversity and resilience are rapidly falling due to human activities. This threatens all species, including people, unless we act now.

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